Archive for the ‘elections’ Category

For Obama, Three Afghanistan Tests

March 28, 2009

Three time bombs are buried within the new and ambitious strategy for Afghanistan that President Obama unveiled Friday. Their detonation — which would cripple the international mission to stabilize the country and perhaps cripple Obama’s presidency — is not inevitable. But defusing them will take an exceptional performance by U.S. military commanders and diplomats, some skillful politicking by the president — and maybe a little of the unexpected good fortune that blessed the U.S. surge in Iraq.

By Jackson Diehl
The Washington Post

The first fuse is burning down toward Aug. 20, less than five months from now. On that day, Afghanistan is due to hold a presidential election whose outcome and perceived fairness may determine whether most Afghans continue to view U.S. and NATO forces as friendly. By then, too, the 17,000 additional Marines and Army troops authorized by Obama last month should be deployed in the two southern Afghan provinces, Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban is strongest, along with scores of new American civilian advisers.

This first test is twofold: Can the new U.S. forces clear the enemy from the large areas near the border with Pakistan where they now rule with near impunity — something that inevitably will mean a spike in violence — without appearing to use disproportionate force? And will Afghans be secure enough to cast ballots in an election in which they will be offered alternatives to incumbent President Hamid Karzai, with the assurance that their votes will be fairly counted?

U.S. commanders are pretty confident they can pass the military test, in part because for the first time in the seven-year war they can mass enough forces to overwhelm the Taliban without heavy reliance on air power, which causes 60 percent of civilian casualties. The election will be trickier. Karzai’s government is perceived as feckless and corrupt by much of the Afghan population, and his relations with the United States have deteriorated sharply in the past year. Yet, in part because of a lack of strong challengers, he appears likely to win reelection. If the vote seems rigged, or if Karzai wins a new mandate without offering a credible promise of improvement, Afghans may irrevocably sour both on the central government and its foreign sponsors.

“This election has to be viewed as free and fair,” said one U.S. military officer in Kabul. “And there has to be some discussion of corruption by Karzai so that in the first 100 days after the election there can be some visible action taken.”

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-
dyn/content/article/2009/03/27/
AR2009032702293.html?hpid=o
pinionsbox1

Read also Peter Bergen of the New York Times on why the historic record for Afghanistan does not have to predict the future…
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/
03/28/opinion/28bergen.html?_r=1

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Census, White House and Judd Gregg

February 12, 2009

House Republican leaders said Thursday they’re ready to go to court against President Obama if he doesn’t scuttle his plan to move the census into the purview of the Oval Office, saying it’s an unconstitutional abuse of power.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind., also called on Obama’s nominee to head the Commerce Department, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, to withdraw his nomination if Obama moves forward with the change. Gregg has been a long time opponent of increased funding to the Census Bureau.

Related:
Obama Commerce Secretary Nominee Judd Gregg Withdraws

Under Obama’s plan, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, who has yet to be named, would report to White House senior management in addition to the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau.

A Senate committee has scheduled a hearing next month on the potential change. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are also pushing for an investigation.

GOP leaders sent Obama a letter to the White House on Wednesday demanding a reversal of the plan.

“If the president doesn’t acquiesce to our letter, then we will seek the courts,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a news conference Thursday. 

“Ultimately I don’t think there’s any question among federal courts about whether or not this is a personal power of the presidency or whether or not executive privilege would be waived if he started doing functions like this,” Issa said.

A spokesman for Issa told FOXNews.com that the lawmaker wouldn’t initiate a lawsuit but would lend his support to any individual or group that did.

At the news conference Thursday, House Republican leaders announced the formation of a census task force to keep an eye on developments. Republicans displayed a large placard with a 2006 quote from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that read, “If you think redistricting is always partisan and political which it is…it’s going to be on steroids this time.”

Census numbers determine everything from government pay-outs to how many people represent each state in Congress. Past censuses have sparked fights over issues as varied as how to ensure remote population groups are counted accurately to how such terms as “poverty” are defined.

The controversy began when Obama nominated Gregg to head the Commerce Department.

Gregg once voted for a broader budget measure that would have abolished the agency, and he opposed increased funding for the 2000 census. Gregg’s record raised concerns about his commitment to an accurate census count, a priority for minority groups that have historically been undercounted.

Gregg’s nomination initially pleased Republicans because he has opposed increased funding to the census and once supported abolishing the agency. But now they have begun to question his silence.

“If the president doesn’t trust Judd Gregg to lead the census, he should withdraw the nomination,” Pence said.

The White House sought to soothe those concerns in a statement late last week reassuring that the census director would “work closely with White House senior management.”

That in turn sparked an uproar from Republicans, who accused the White House of injecting partisan politics into the census and seeking to cut out agency professionals in favor of political operatives.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday, emphasizing Obama’s commitment to a “complete and accurate count through a process that is free from politicization” even while seeking to explain that no real change was being made to the census director’s chain of command.

“As they have in the past, White House senior management will work closely with the census director given the number of decisions that will need to reach the president’s desk,” said the statement from White House spokesman Benjamin LaBolt.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who has pushed legislation to create an independent census agency, complained about the move by House Republicans, saying their “answer is to have a press conference and create a tempest over the Census Bureau, even before the president has had a chance to unpack his bags.”

FOX News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

“Death to America, Death to Israel,” Iran Rallies Behind Ayatollah Khomeini

January 31, 2009

In Iran today, the great anti-American religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was honored and celebrated in the usual way: with street marches and slogans most Americans and Jews would find offensive.

President Obama’s outreach and hope of a new relationship between the U.S. and Iran was not yet apparent in Tehran’s streets.

“We will guard the great legacy and principles of Imam Khomeini,” vowed Khamenei on another banner of his mentor who died in 1989.

“The Islamic revolution is the result of sacrifices made by martyrs,” read a banner inscribed with one of Khomeini’s famous quotes.

AFP said a group of hardline Basij militia on Friday washed Khomeini’s tomb with rose water — an Iranian custom to honour the dead — and the grave was later strewn with flowers, state television said.

This year’s anniversary celebrations come barely four months before a presidential election in Iran, with Ahmadinejad seeking re-election for another four year term.

Without George W. Bush to burn in effigy the anti-Americanism of the event was lessened but still present.

China Arresting Reformers, Tries to Silent Dissent

January 12, 2009

Chinese lawyers, dissidents and academics who signed a document calling for political reform are being harassed by the authorities.

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By Michael Bristow

BBC News, Beijing

Signatories to the Charter 08 document have been detained, questioned by the police and put under pressure at work.

The charter calls for a radical overhaul of China’s political system by introducing elections, a new constitution and an independent judiciary.

Despite 30 years of economic reforms, China’s political system has hardly changed in that time.

And the authorities’ reaction to this latest call for reform suggests the country’s leaders still have no appetite for political reforms.

House arrest

Charter 08 was published last month on the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Read the rest:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7819355.stm